My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: Suzanne Cox

Album Review: Alison Krauss & Union Station – ‘Lonely Runs Both Ways’

lonelyOver the course of their career, Alison Krauss & Union Station have been both torchbearers for traditional bluegrass and trailblazers who have stretched the genre’s boundaries. 2004’s Lonely Runs Both Ways combines elements of bluegrass with folk, gospel and traditional country, but thankfully does not venture as far into mainstream pop as their previous album New Favorite did. By now, they had fine-tuned their approach of combining different musical styles, with Alison taking the lead on the more progressive, middle-of-the-road type songs, while Dan Tyminski and Ron Block tackle the more hardcore bluegrass numbers. The list of contributing songwriters will also be familiar to most fans, with Robert Lee Castleman, Jerry Douglas, David Rawlings, Gillian Welch, and Sidney and Suzanne Cox supplying much of the material.

The commercial success of AKUS has owed little to the support it received from country radio. The group typically releases three or four singles from each album, one of which usually reaches the lower rungs of the chart, while the others fail to to chart at all. Lonely Runs Both Ways is no exception. “Restless”, “Goodbye Is All We Have” and “If I Didn’t Know Any Better” were all released to radio, with only “Restless” enjoying some limited chart success, landing at #36.

The opening track, Robert Lee Castleman’s “Gravity” is pretty but a bit dull; it is my least favorite of the four Castleman compositions. I greatly prefer “Restless”, “Crazy As Me”, and “Doesn’t Have To Be That Way”, all of which are exquisitely sung by Alison. Alison truly shines, however, on the closing track “A Living Prayer”, written by Union Station’s banjoist Ron Block.

When it’s time for Union Station to kick up its heels, the lead vocal duties are primarily turned over to Dan Tyminski, who does a first-rate job interpreting classics such as Del McCoury’s “Rain Please Go Away” and Woody Guthrie’s “Pastures of Plenty”. He also sings the lead on the uptempo “Crazy As Me”, one of Alison’s rare original compositions, co-written with Alison Brown. Ron Block sings the lead on his own “I Don’t Have To Live This Way”, and “Unionhouse Branch” is the obligatory instrumental Jerry Douglas number.

Despite a lack of radio support, Lonely Runs Both Ways climbed to #6 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and earned gold certification. The album doesn’t hold any surprises; fans of Alison Krauss & Union Station will not be disappointed, while those who don’t care for bluegrass will find little here to win them over.

Grade: A

Album Review: Alison Krauss and the Cox Family – ‘I Know Who Holds Tomorrow’

i know who holds tomorrowThe Cox Family from Louisiana comprises father Willard, son Sidney, and daughters Evelyn, Lynn and Suzanne. Alison Krauss was a fan of Sidney Cox’s songwriting, and had recorded several of his songs on her first few Rounder albums. She also admired the beautiful voices and harmonies of his sisters, and the family band’s debut album on Rounder Records in 1993 (Everybody’s Reaching Out For Someone) was Alison’s first venture into producing other artists. It was an excellent record and is well worth tracking down in its own right.

The following year Alison collaborated with the family for a gospel album (perhaps surprisingly, it remain Alison’s only full album of religious material, although she has recorded many individual songs. Stylistically it is acoustic country with bluegrass instruments subtly augmented by drums, piano and steel guitar, all tastefully played and arranged.

The vocals are mainly split between the high soprano voices of Alison and Suzanne Cox; the latter’s exquisite voice is a delight (and very similar tonally to Alison’s), and the example seems to have brought out the best in Alison too.

Suzanne sings lead on my two favourite tracks – the enchantingly beautiful title track, a simple declaration of faith; and the equally beautiful ‘I’d Rather Have Jesus’. The hymn ‘Will There Be Any Stars’ is also lovely, and she takes another lead on the rhythmic ‘Walk Over God’s Heaven’, strongly backed by the other girls’ harmonies.

Evelyn’s fine voice is lower than the high sopranos of Suzanne and Alison, and is featured on two songs. Her solo on ‘Where No One Stands Alone’ has a slow, stately pace, while she swaps lead vocals with Alison on ‘Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven’, a sprightly old Loretta Lynn song with lovely harmonies from the other girls and a sarcastic tag line (“nobody wants to die”).

My favourite of Alison’s lead vocals is the angelically lovely ‘In The Palm Of Your Hand’, written by Union Station’s Ron Block, which is perfect for her and the most archetypal Krauss recording. The ethereal ‘Jewels’ is pretty, but the determined ‘Never Will Give Up’ is less interesting.

The mellow, sweet voice of Lynn Cox takes the lead on Dottie Rambo’s understated and soothing ‘Remind Me, Dear Lord’. Sidney takes over for the album’s most surprising song choice, a cover of pop star Paul Simon’s ‘Loves Me Like A Rock’ which fits in surprisingly well. Dad Willard’s gravelly baritone takes over on ‘Far Side Bank Of Jordan’, a wearied song about anticipating death and ultimate reunion with a loved one.

The album won a well-deserved Grammy. It is one of my favourite religious albums, and I would recommend it to any fan of Alison Krauss- she is part of an ensemble here, but the Cox women have heavenly voices to match hers, and the album as a whole is as close to perfect as I can imagine.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: Dolly Parton, Alison Krauss and Suzanne Cox – ‘The Garden’

Album Review: Emmylou Harris – ‘Cowgirl’s Prayer’

Often a new record deal presents the opportunity for an artist to go off in a different direction and explore new territory, but 1993’s Cowgirl’s Prayer is more of a transitional album in Emmylou Harris’ career. Her first release for Elektra/Asylum was once again produced by Allen Reynolds and Richard Bennett, and follows the same basic template of 1990’s Brand New Dance, using mostly stripped down arrangements and understated performances. As she had done in the past, Emmylou had members of her band and some marquis name guest stars perform on the record. Nash Ramblers members Sam Bush, Al Perkins, Jon Randall Stewart and Roy Husky, Jr., all made appearances, while Alison Krauss, Suzanne Cox, and Trisha Yearwood all contributed harmony vocals and Kieran Kane lent his guitar-playing skills.

Never one to blindly follow trends, Emmylou resisted the then-current fashion of releasing beat-driven, slickly produced and often too-loud music meant to appeal to those on club line-dancing floors. Cowgirl’s Prayer is largely a quiet affair, which, along with Emmylou’s advancing age (by Nashville standards) at a time when country music had begun to become youth-obsessed made the album’s chances for success an uphill climb. It was largely met with indifference by radio, which is a shame because it contains some of the best performances of Emmylou’s career.

The rocker “High Powered Love”, which is not one of my favorites in the collection, was the first to be sent to radio. It stalled at #63. “Thanks To You” , written by Jesse Winchester fared slightly worse, peaking at #65. In between these two singles, a cover of Lucinda Williams’ “Crescent City” was released, and it failed to chart at all.

I like the album cuts in this collection much better than the radio singles. Particularly good are a tastefully produced and beautifully performed version of the old Eddy Arnold and Cindy Walker Classic “You Don’t Know Me”, and “Lovin’ You Again”, in which Emmylou portrays the long-suffering lover whose partner is gone for long stretches of time but always turns up when he has nowhere else to go. The best track on the album is “Prayer in Open D”, which Emmylou wrote herself. It begins as an expression of sorrow and despair:

There’s a valley of sorrow in my soul
Where every night I hear the thunder roll,
Like the sound of a distant gun
Over all the damage I have done.
And the shadows filling up this land
Are the ones I built with my own hand
There is no comfort from the cold
Of this valley of sorrow in my soul.

But by the end of the song, the bleakness gives way to hope:

There’s a highway risin’ from my dreams,
Deep in the heart I know it gleams
For I have seen it stretching wide,
Clear across to the other side
Beyond the river and the flood,
And the valley where for so long I have stood.
With the rock of ages in my bones
Someday I know it will lead me home.

The track is mostly acoustic-guitar led, along with a tasteful string section arranged by former Hot Band Member Emory Gordy, Jr..

There is a spiritual theme throughout the album, from the title and “Prayer in Open D”, to “The Light” and “I Hear A Call” to the Southern-spiritual flavored “Thanks To You”, on which Trisha Yearwood sings harmony, to “Jerusalem Tomorrow”, which is the most unusual track in the collection. It tells the story of a faith healer in Biblical times, who is essentially put of out business by, and eventually becomes a follower of, Jesus Christ. It’s an interesting tale, but I’m not a big fan of songs that are spoken rather than sung, so this is the one track I tend to skip over.

Cowgirl’s Prayer charted higher on the albums chart than Brand New Dance (#34 for Cowgirl’s Prayer vs #45 for Brand New Dance), but it was largely regarded as a commercial disaster. It is primarily remembered as the catalyst that caused Emmylou to make an unfortunate, in my view, change in musical direction; her next release was 1995’s controversial and more rock-oriented Wrecking Ball, which began a 13-year era in which Emmylou’s music drifted further away from the traditional country for which she had become famous. Although 2008’s All I Intended To Be, was in some ways a return to form, Cowgirl’s Prayer remains the last of the old-style Emmylou Harris albums. It’s still easy to find at Amazon and iTunes and well worth purchasing if you missed it the first time around.

Grade: A –